This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.
What kind of lawyer do you want to be?
Have you thought about it? Rich? Successful? Ruthless? Generous? Working in a big law firm or a top company? Helping people at grassroots?
Before we jump into that let’s take an honest look at what people think of the legal profession today.
Tiger < Police < Lawyer
In India, ask a common man, and he will tell you that he is scared of going to a lawyer. It’s very expensive, rarely produces good results and is a very stressful experience overall.
Lawyers often treat their clients in a way that bureaucracy does. If they are successful then they behave like demigods.
In my native language, there is a saying “Baghe chnule 12 gha, police chnule 18 gha aar ukile chnule 36 gha.” it means if a tiger touches you, you get 12 wounds. If a policeman touches you, you will get 18 wounds. If a lawyer touches you, you will get 36 wounds.
Wow. Think about that.
I mentioned this to Tanuj Kalia of Lawctopus, and he told me about a Punjabi saying which basically means that nobody should be unfortunate enough to see the insides of a hospital or a court.
So that’s the kind of reputation the legal profession has earned.
The people do not think that the court is a temple of justice. They feel that it is the place where justice is delayed and buried under files.
Lawyers may feel that they are proud officers of the court, but the common man compares us with vultures, jackals etc unflattering animals.
Uncharitable things about lawyers are part of our national folklore.
And lawyers pretend to themselves that they are part of a noble profession.
Do you take pride in being a lawyer?
I do not feel proud to call myself a lawyer at times when I see that a large number of people in this country have no access to justice. Forget the poor and the destitute, even rich people who can afford lawyers’ fees, do not always get legal services of reasonable quality!
We have a pathetic bar exam. It is open book but does not test conceptual knowledge. It literally checks if you are smart enough to open bare acts and find specific sections mentioned in the questions themselves. It is a joke. I once asked a couple of graduate non-lawyer friends to take the bar exam (I gave them the paper and asked them to solve). They scored 50% without even requiring law books, in one hour only. If someone does a large scale testing of this nature, it will be proven that one does not have to be a lawyer or complete legal education to crack the bar exam.
Even CLAT, which is only for entrance to NLUs, is much tougher than the India bar exam! The bar exam only exists to fill up the coffers of BCI.
It is a fraud on all Indians, all litigants and especially on the capable lawyers. Why can’t we have a decent bar exam like other civilised countries, such as USA, UK or Japan? Why are people who do not have sufficient legal knowledge given a license to practice? Is the BCI doing any favours to these lawyers? I don’t think so.
BCI has completely failed to maintain the quality of the profession. And year after year, thousands of lawyers with little capabilities or knowledge are inflating the ranks of lawyers in this country and ruining the reputation of the legal profession even further.
Majority of lawyers are not in a good place either
Lawyers themselves are suffering. Most of them have no idea about how to run law practices, how to find clients, how to brand themselves, how to learn new and useful skills.
Continuous legal education in India is a farce. Some law schools get decent grants in name of continuing legal education but the courses are of such low calibre and low quality that nobody in their right mind will pay for such courses. People attend these for free food, stay, networking with the big names who come to these events to teach.
Judges and well-known lawyers give stream of consciousness lectures in these programs held at prestigious universities and think that they are doing a great job. Professors use these events to network with judges and politically influential lawyers. Everybody pat each other in the back but the end result is that lawyers have no avenue to actually upgrade their skills, knowledge, market insights (this is a place our LawSikho is nicely filling up, so I will not pretend that I am not glad at some level that the universities are so bad at it).
When you can’t make a living through honest means, can I blame you if you turn to shady practices to make ends meet?
A large number of so called qualified lawyers do not have adequate skills to practice law or to assist clients in getting justice. Many do not earn enough by honest means, so resort to manipulation of clients or even acting as touts or agents for more established lawyers.
Those who cannot find it in their conscience to do such things often have to leave the legal profession and do menial jobs. My friend Raghul Sudheesh wrote a heart breaking account about this over here.
Who and what do we look up to?
What do you hear if you ask young law students about why they want to do law? Yes, there is somewhere a hidden wish to do good and bring justice in the world, but that is far outweighed by their want to be rich. That’s what is dominating the conversations around legal profession today, and that is what is attracting people to it.
The new generation of lawyers do not have idols to follow today. Young lawyers are now suspicious of even judiciary, that it is partisan, some of it being corrupt, trying to get cushy post-retirement positions and ensure arbitrator appointments in the future. Senior lawyers are obscenely rich and powerful but most of them do not treat juniors well. They are not really the inspirational figures that will inspire young lawyers to rise above the ordinary and give selflessly to society. There are some inspiring law teachers, but they are few and far between.
What is the future of our noble profession? How will this decline be arrested?
I am sure there are plenty of lawyers out there who do not think there is any problem at all and that everything is going great. But I don’t agree. The decay and the stench of rottenness are difficult to ignore anymore.
A lawyer cannot hold his head high today just because he is a lawyer and part of a noble profession unless they are deluding themselves.
It is not that there is enough work, or that no lawyer is doing a good job, or that lawyers are not paid well. The problem is on one hand of access to skill development, and on the other hand of distrust by the public which is a part of the larger image problem of the profession.
Market failure, and what could be possible
Not only are lawyers suffering, but even the common people are also suffering.
What an irony! A typical case of market failure.
There is demand, there is supply, theoretically, there is a market and it should work out. But it is not working out. Demand and supply are not able to converge due to macro-level deficiencies in the system.
What could be possible if the lawyers who are not able to eke out a decent living could actually deliver on client mandates based on their skills?
What if the general public with a problem could trust a lawyer and turn to them at the times of difficulties knowing that they are approaching a humane, highly capable, fair and just problem solver?
It would change not only the legal profession but our country forever.
Justice will be truly accessible. We can then finally call us a truly civilised nation.
Otherwise, we will continue to live in a country where people think it’s better to settle a dispute with fistfights or show of might and influence rather than taking it to the court or before an arbitrator.
But that’s not going to happen by default. There are people with vested interests for whom the current system works great.
Time for action
Nobody is going to come on a white horse and save us.
We have to take the initiative. You know how bad the situation is if you are a young lawyer. I have faith in you. You and I can change it together.
Enough is enough. We must start somewhere. Even a small step in the right direction opens up millions of new possibilities rather than a thousand years of hand wringing and dry speeches from hallowed podiums.
We must create a new order of lawyers, who live by some well recognised principles and serve the cause of justice.
A new breed of lawyers, who stand for an idea
The Soldiers of Justice. A movement. A new kind of lawyer. A new identity.
I want to be able to hold my head high and say that I am not just a lawyer, but I am a Soldier of Justice.
I want the next generation of lawyers to aspire to be a Soldier of Justice, rather than just a lawyer earning a lot of money.
I want that a poor client should be able to trust a Soldier of Justice and know that a Soldier of Justice will never betray him.
A Soldier of Justice must possess some qualities that set him apart. He is ready to make personal sacrifices to win the war against injustice.
Here are the qualities I have thought of:
Continuous self-development and introspection
Superior communication skills
Service to the people and to humanity
Allegiance to justice
Commitment to a principled practice of law
A strong public persona in his/her community
But you know what? I don’t know. It is still an idea inside my head. It inspires me. Does it inspire you? Do you think it’s worth making the time and effort to create a new order of lawyers?
I am thinking about a community which will accept only the lawyers who have these qualities and help other lawyers to cultivate these qualities. They would have to do some minimal work to stay a part of this community, such as minimum pro bono commitments, community outreach, personal brand building exercises, continuing education.
We would expel people who fail to uphold community standards. We will keep the bar very high. So high that one would be proud to be part of this. And will consider joining it and being able to continue as a part of it as a matter of great achievement and honour. And their work will inspire the larger legal community to up their standards as well.
What do I want from you?
I shared this idea with you hoping to get your thoughts on this. Please take out 10 minutes to think about the idea Soldiers of Justice and share your inputs in reply. It will help me to think things through and take the initial steps towards building this community of extraordinary lawyers who stand for justice.
The time for this idea is certainly here. Would you want to be a part of it? What do you think it should be like? What should be the rules of the community? What activities should be there? Should there be weekly mentoring sessions? Should there be monthly meetups citywise?
How do we select the initial set of Soldiers of Justice?
How should we go about this?
While I envision that Soldiers of Justice will always be a movement and have no profit motives, I will begin to implement some of the precepts into LawSikho courses, especially the parts on competence, integrity, communication, and building a strong public persona.
It is up to us to make the legal profession great again. You will hear more from me about this soon again, I promise.
Before I close this, just let me tell you that we have a few courses coming up in February (Gareema and Ratul will kill me if I didn’t mention that):
Executive Certificate Course